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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LONNIE ASHFORD (01/19/79)

decided: January 19, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
LONNIE ASHFORD, APPELLANT



No. 1801 October Term 1977, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Pa., Criminal No. 764 of 1976.

COUNSEL

Edward F. Browne, Assistant Public Defender, Lancaster, for appellant.

Michael H. Ranck, Assistant District Attorney, Lancaster, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jacobs, President Judge, and Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, Spaeth and Hester, JJ. Jacobs, President Judge, and Van der Voort, J., concur in the result. Cercone, J., files a dissenting statement. Price, J., files a dissenting statement. The decision in this case was reached prior to the retirement of Jacobs, former President Judge. Hoffman, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Spaeth

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 103]

This is an appeal from judgment of sentence for possessing a prohibited offensive weapon.*fn1 Appellant argues that the knife he possessed was not a prohibited offensive weapon within the meaning of the Crimes Code.

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 104]

Appellant was arrested by a Lancaster City police officer during the morning of February 29, 1976. The officer had noticed appellant riding a motorcycle and decided to follow him to investigate a prior criminal incident. After following appellant to his house, the officer asked him to produce his driver's license and owner's card. As appellant reached into his pocket, the officer noticed the handle of a knife; he grabbed appellant, and the knife dropped out. The knife was a total of ten inches long, with a blade four and one half inches long and a lock that secured the blade, either in an open or closed position. To open the knife, the lock had to be released. Once the lock was released, the blade could be exposed by a flick of the wrist. N.T. at 28, 29. The officer testified that he did not know the name of this sort of knife, but it was not a "switchblade." N.T. at 29.*fn2 Both appellant and his mother testified that appellant had used the knife to cut certain wires on his motorcycle the previous day. N.T. at 42, 57. Appellant's mother testified that some of her grandchildren found the knife, and that the next time she saw it, appellant had put it in his tool box. N.T. at 56, 57.

Section 908(a) of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code states: "A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if, except as authorized by law, he makes repairs, sells, or otherwise deals in, uses, or possesses any offensive weapon." Section 908(c) defines an "offensive weapon" as "any bomb, grenade, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun, firearm specially made or specially adapted for concealment or silent discharge, any blackjack, sandbag, metal knuckles, dagger, knife, razor or cutting instrument, the blade of which is exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise, or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose." (Emphasis added.) We must therefore decide, first, whether the knife had a blade "exposed in an automatic way," and second, if it did not, whether it was an

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 105]

"implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serve[d] no common lawful purpose."

1

A close reading of section 908(c) and of the relevant case law will show that the knife did not have a blade "exposed in an automatic way." It is to be assumed that the legislature uses words in their standard, or accepted, sense. Vitolins Unempl. Compensation Case, 203 Pa. Super. 183, 199 A.2d 474 (1964); Ross Unempl. Compensation Case, 192 Pa. Super. 190, 159 A.2d 772 (1960). Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language defines "automatic" as: "Done without conscious thought or volition, as if mechanically, or from force of habit 2) moving, operating, etc. by itself; regulating itself." A blade that must be exposed by a flick of the wrist, as the arresting officer testified, is not exposed "as if mechanically" or "by itself." Furthermore, the phrase "exposed in an automatic way" must be read in its context which is: "exposed in an automatic way by switch, push-button, spring mechanism, or otherwise " (emphasis added). The legislature thus proscribed four categories of automatic knives, the first three categories being described specifically, the last, generally. The rule of construction applicable to such a statute is well settled. In Butler Fair and Ag. Assn. v. Butler Sch. Dist., 389 Pa. 169, 178, 132 A.2d 214, 219 (1957), the Supreme Court said: "General expressions used in a statute are restricted to things and persons similar to those specifically enumerated in the language preceding the general expressions" (quoting Frederick's Estate, 333 Pa. 327, 331, 5 A.2d 91, 93 (1939)). Likewise, in Commonwealth v. Simmons, 211 Pa. Super. 344, 348, 236 A.2d 563, 565 (1967), we said that "[i]n construing a ...


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